The Scrum approach to agile software development marks a dramatic departure from waterfall management. Scrum and other agile methods were inspired by its shortcomings. Scrum emphasizes collaboration, functioning software, team self management, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities.
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One of the things I am thinking about and working on is the concept of being more available.
All the objections that have been brought up seem to me to be trying to work around the rather obvious impediment of someone acting badly.
No, that’s not it at all. I agree if the Product Owner (or anyone) is being a jerk, this is an obvious thing for the Scrum Master (and others) to fix. My concern is something much less obvious, and (in my experience) more powerful. As I’ve written it out below, I realize it’s also more complicated to explain than I first thought.
- It is normal human nature to overestimate what we are able to perceive about a situation. We never grasp the full extent of this because we lie to ourselves about the fact we lie to ourselves.
- As Keith Johnstone (the father of theater improv) also observes, there are no status-free transactions among humans. None. (By the way, learning theater improv is an exciting way to learn how true collaboration really works.)
- 99.9% of organizations designate material power to some individuals over others. I’ll call them “bosses” and “subordinates” instead of the various euphemisms. While most bosses don’t enjoy this, they are burdened with deciding which subordinates will be retained in the event of a layoff, which subordinates get promoted, who gets to work on the new sexy projects vs. maintaining the turkeys, etc. (Some bosses tell me they really hate doing performance appraisals.) The 0.1% exceptions (maybe Valve?) are probably past the point they need Scrum rules anyway.
- The people with the vision, authority, business acumen, and maturity to be good Product Owners are also often burdened by the organization with some boss responsibilities.
- It is human nature to assume others are feeling the way we are. For example, once before I ran a retrospective, a team member told me it was not necessary to waste time on a safety check because they were all very comfortable with each other. I did one anyway (anonymously, using a hat), which revealed some team members felt quite unsafe. Confident people overestimate the comfort of others.
- Combine all the above and you get the “invisible gun effect.” THE INVISIBLE GUN EFFECT HAPPENS EVEN WITH THE NICEST BOSS IN THE WORLD. It’s not caused by the boss’s actual actions, it’s caused by the way subordinate behavior is naturally distorted around bosses. It’s normal human nature, not something Scrum Masters can “fix” any more than they can fix gravity. It’s most visible to the lower-status people (which might include newhires, people with less impressive job titles, etc.), less visible to higher-status people (perhaps including senior developers, socially confident people, people with better technical skills than social perception skills, and Scrum consultants), and practically invisible to bosses who haven’t done an A/B test yet. Nearly everyone in the discussion had reduced awareness of the invisible gun effect due to spending the past few years in relatively high-status occupations: trainers, expert consultants, senior developers, Product Owners, business owners, authors, etc. The fact that all 104 messages in the thread were written by men might also suggest some blind spots.
- There is also what my wife calls the “chirping bird effect.” I once read that when a male bird is around, a female bird will feign incompetence at something she’d normally be able to do. My wife brought this up when I asked her how she was able to solve a problem with her computer — something she’d been bugging me to fix — while I was on a business trip. This effect is gender neutral: when she’s gone I have no problem with things I seem less able to do unassisted when she’s home, such as finding my car keys or preparing food for our kids. In class we sometimes get groups that keep asking the trainer for more detailed instructions, or help manage another team member. That’s often a good time for the trainer to leave the room! We can talk about self organization until we’re blue in the face, and they won’t really get it until we leave them alone — temporarily — to let them do it. I heard a story of one Scrum coach taking a nap under the table to get a team to step up more, and of Ken Schwaber standing outside the door of the team room during a Daily Scrum. I’ve seen teams have breakthroughs in self management when the person traditionally responsible for managing them left the room. I am inspired by the breakthroughs Scrum led to, especially among the lower status team members who aren’t well represented in this discussion. Team expecting micromanagement? Try management by leaving the room — temporarily. Of course we always hold the team accountable at the Sprint Review Meeting.
- Facilitators need to learn that when safety is low, smaller breakout groups often work better. For example I’ve noticed some people in Finland aren’t inclined to talk in front of a larger group (especially in English), but liven up in small groups. Once they’ve discussed some things in their small groups they’re more comfortable sharing with the larger group. The paradox here is that appropriate and temporary boundaries can actually increase transparency.
Posted by ewok_bbq under transformation
What can this picture tell us about getting outside of our comfort zone?
Scrum has only three roles: the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Team. The Scrum Master serves as a facilitator for both the Product Owner and the team. The Scrum Master has no authority within the team (thus couldn’t also be the Product Owner!) and may never commit to work on behalf of the team. Likewise, the Scrum Master also is not a co-ordinator, because (by definition) self-organizing teams should co-ordinate directly with other teams, departments, and other external entities.
The best Scrum Masters are the types of people who feel as much satisfaction from facilitating others’ success as their own. They must also be comfortable surrendering control to the Product Owner and team. Traditional project managers don’t always make great Scrum Masters, especially if they’ve previously managed the same team members. One problem I hear about from recovering project managers is that the teams still look to them for direct instructions rather than stepping up to team self organization. “Self organize, dammit!” But there are exceptions; some amazing Scrum Masters were once project managers. Perhaps it’s best to let the team and Product Owner decide who should be their Scrum Master.
What does a Scrum Master do? The Scrum Master removes any impediments that obstruct a team’s pursuit of its sprint goals. If developers don’t have a good sense of what each other are doing, the Scrum Master helps them set up a physical taskboard and shows the team how to use it. If developers aren’t colocated, the Scrum Master ensures that they have team room. If outsiders interrupt the team, the Scrum Master redirects them to the Product Owner. If the team has not learned how to develop a potentially shippable product increment every Sprint, the Scrum Master teaches them Test Driven Development (TDD), or finds people who can teach them. If the existing code is so bad that it slows down new development, the Scrum Master helps the team learn how to pay off technical debt incrementally.
As the team grows into a self-managing entity, the Scrum Master’s role shifts toward the organizational impediments, issues caused by the outer organization. If the company still has a “business side” and an “IT side”, the Scrum Master works to make each team cross-functional. If the team depends on outsiders, the Scrum Master must help transform the organization to use cross-component feature teams. If “Human Resources” policies (e.g. performance appraisals and job titles) interfere with intrinsic motivation and teamwork, the Scrum Master must educate the business about the harm caused by those policies (incidentally, agile advocates don’t refer to humans as “resources”).
Scrum Masters are full-time transformation agents, but they do not push for change. What do people do when you push them? They push back. Instead, effective Scrum Masters promote transformation through illumination and invitation. Conversations with executives don’t work without a background of relatedness. In established organizations, improvements come in fits and starts. Sometimes it seems like nothing is changing, then the organization has a breakthrough right when we were about to give up. This can be emotionally taxing, so I advise Scrum Masters to connect with a community of Agilists. Product development is mostly about knowledge creation and collaboration, but most large organizations would require fundamental changes before they could be called learning organizations. Skilled Scrum Masters read books about facilitation, persuasion, mindfulness, and what Marshall Rosenberg called “Nonviolent Communication.”
To understand the full scope of the Scrum Master role, see the Scrum Master checklist, which is referenced by several bestselling Agile books. The Scrum Master Checklist examines four questions effective Scrum Masters consider each day: How is my Team doing? How is my Product Owner doing? How are our technical practices? How is the larger organization doing?
In Large Scale Scrum, the Scrum Master role shifts over time from focus on the team to focus on the larger organization.
About The Author
ExamplesThe ScrumMaster Role
Scrum Training Series
- Scrum based funding model – 20 percent May 9, 2013
- The Next Big Idea March 5, 2013
- On Being Available February 17, 2013
- Should Scrum Always Require the Product Owner to Attend the Sprint Retrospective Meeting? February 5, 2013
- Happiness Metrics January 23, 2013